Gina Centrello (president and publisher of the Random House Publishing Group) in “The Corner Office”

CentrelloAdam Bryant conducts interviews of senior-level executives that appear in his “Corner Office” column each week in the SundayBusiness section of The New York Times. Here are a few insights provided during an interview of Gina Centrello, president and publisher of the Random House Publishing Group. To read the complete interview as well as Bryant’s interviews of other executives, please click here.

Photo credit: Earl Wilson/The New York Times

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Were you in leadership roles growing up?

No. I was pretty shy as a kid. I grew up in a very middle-class home. My dad was a really hard-working guy. He got up at 5 every morning and worked seven days a week as a conductor on the railroad. My mom was a really gutsy lady. She was born in Marseille, France; she came here in her early 20s and didn’t speak English. She taught herself by reading, and improved her vocabulary by doing crossword puzzles. Reading was always a big deal for us — “If you want to do well, read.”

What about your career plans in college?

I was going to be a teacher, but there were really no teaching jobs at that point. I just fell into publishing — I wrote a bunch of query letters, and I was hired to be a proofreader at a textbook company. Then Pocket Books hired me as a copy editor. Ten years later, I ran the company.

How did you make that happen?

I was just very curious. It’s an interesting industry, I did a variety of jobs and I was fortunate to work for a lot of smart people. It’s a mentorship business — there’s no manual on how to become a publisher. I wasn’t even sure I wanted to be a publisher, but when I saw the pieces come together as managing editor, I thought, “This is an amazing business to be in, because you’re dealing with such interesting people.” Authors are fascinating people, and as a publisher, your job is to make their work public. You’re kind of like the backup singer for them.

I was also hard-working from the start. People often just want an answer to something, and there are so many things that fall between departments. So you try to become the person who can answer those questions. That’s what publishing is; there are a ton of details to make it work. And that’s why the team is so important, because each executive, in each area, owns their piece of it in a way that no one else can. My job now is to choreograph.

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Adam Bryant, deputy national editor of The New York Times, oversees coverage of education issues, military affairs, law, and works with reporters in many of the Times’ domestic bureaus. He also conducts interviews with CEOs and other leaders for Corner Office, a weekly feature in the SundayBusiness section and on nytimes.comthat he started in March 2009. In his book, The Corner Office: Indispensable and Unexpected Lessons from CEOs on How to Lead and Succeed, (Times Books), he analyzes the broader lessons that emerge from his interviews with more than 70 leaders. To read an excerpt, please click here.

His more recent book, Quick and Nimble: Lessons from Leading CEOs on How to Create a Culture of Innovation, was also also published by Times Books (January 2014). To contact him, please click here.

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